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Rangers rout high flying City
Rangers rout high flying City
Sunday, 3rd Feb 2008 17:20

QPR cruised to a convincing home victory against Bristol City at Loftus Road. Two more goals for Pat Agyemang preceded an Akos Buzsaky strike from long range.

“Money doesn’t buy you success,” according to Bristol City Chairman Steve Lansdown who was interviewed prior to Saturday’s match. His was the second of two grumbling, sniping articles in the local Bristol press pointing out the potential pitfalls of our newly found wealth and January transfer window activity. City’s assistant manager felt the need to tell the world how angry our board members were at Cardiff on Tuesday in an article that hinted at more sinister predictions on the future of manager Luigi De Canio.

They’re right to say money isn’t everything, and we may have bought nine new players but we’ve not got any guarantees, and we’re still in trouble at the bottom of the league, and City have worked hard and steadily to get where they are now and credit to them. But both articles made only passing reference to the indisputable fact that money will buy you quality players.

They may not gel straight away, or at all, or they might get injured, or they could fall out with each other. Any number of things can go wrong, and on Tuesday night at Ninian Park they couldn’t have gone much worse, but people like Rowan Vine, Akos Buzsaky, Hogan Ephraim, Patrick Agyemang, Matthew Connolly and Michael Mancienne will still be quality players when they get out of bed at the start of the following day. What we’ve bought is potential – and when the players we have fulfil theirs they’re starting to show that they can be pretty devastating at this level.

Lansdown and his management team watched on from the South Africa Road stand on Saturday as QPR made short work of their table topping side, scoring three goals without breaking too much of a sweat. The passing and movement in possession was far superior to anything City, deservedly renowned as a decent side with the ball at feet themselves, produced all afternoon and while Byfield and debutant Adebola laboured to make any impact at one end, Vine and Agyemang cut the amateur looking Bristol City defence to shreds at the other.

Following that midweek thumping at Cardiff, which could have been twice or three times as bad but for the heroics of Lee Camp, Rangers made three changes to their team. Fitz Hall tore a groin muscle in Wales and will be out for several weeks, he was surprisingly replaced in the line up by Zesh Rehman at centre half alongside Damion Stewart. Matthew Connolly also picked up a knock against Cardiff and lost the right back position to Michael Mancienne as a result but did take his place on the bench. Damien Delaney kept his place at left back despite the horrific error that led to Cardiff’s first goal. In midfield Mikele Leigertwood paid the price for his poor performance by dropping to the bench so Hogan Ephraim could start wide left. Martin Rowlands returned to the middle alongside Mahon with Buzsaky wide right. Rangers went with two in attack for the first time in several weeks – Vine partnering Agyemang.

Bristol City gave a debut in attack to Dele Adebola after his deadline day move from Coventry. Adebola’s prolific record against QPR for Crewe, Birmingham and Coventry in the past had the QPR fans nervous before kick off, and when Rehman appeared on the team sheet against him that nervousness turned to terror in the member’s bar. The last time Rehman had a go at marking Adebola, against Coventry at Loftus Road last season, it did not go well and that made the decision to pick him against City’s latest recruit even more mystifying – Lee at right back and Mancienne at centre half seemed the obvious choice.

Still, there’s no excuse for the booing his name received when it was announced to the crowd before kick off. That kind of behaviour is counter productive. Apart from that the most notable thing before the kick off was the absence of Luigi De Canio on the touchline, Paulo Pavese and Gareth Ainsworth did most of the directing and shouting from the dug out, and the players each wearing a black arm band confirming the pre-match story that De Canio had returned to Italy to mourn the death of his Father. Our thoughts are with the De Canio family at this time.

Rangers were really on their game right from the kick off, eager to make up for the Tuesday night disaster. Martin Rowlands’ deflected shot wide sparked a series of three corners that City struggled to deal with. First Damion Stewart attacked the near post in trade mark fashion but could only get a flicked header on Buzsaky’s delivery when a firm connection would have ripped the net off the back of the posts. QPR were unlucky not to profit from the final delivery of the set when Rowan Vine sent a fierce cross shot through the six yard box, just out of reach of Damion Stewart who once again failed to make the required contact for a goal.

One of the most pleasing aspects of Patrick Agyemang’s superb start at Loftus Road is his work ethic and that nearly brought the opening goal after ten minutes when he chased McAllister all the way across the Bristol City half and then robbed him of the ball by the byline and fed it into the area for Buzsaky. The Hungarian uncharacteristically missed his kick and Basso in the City goal was grateful to scoop up the bouncing shot as it bobbled towards goal. McAllister later had City’s first effort on goal with a half volley from fully thirty yards that flew several feet over the cross bar.

Rangers took the lead in the 18th minute thanks to the fourth goal in as many games from Dave Agyemang. The excellent Michael Mancienne started the move, again getting the better of his man in the right back spot and then hooking the ball over the halfway line under pressure. The ball was brought down on the chest by Vine wide on the right and he showed terrific awareness to flick it infield with his second touch into the path of Agyemang who raced past the last defender with a great first touch and after setting himself he slid the ball calmly and confidently under Basso and into the far corner. Credit to Vine for a superb assist and once Agyemang got the ball there was never any doubt – I can’t say he’s ever been renowned as a prolific and clinical goal scorer but the way he took this one promised even more to come in the next few games.

There was almost more to come from QPR straight from the kick off as Rowan Vine bundled the ball through to the edge of the area, despite never seeming to have the ball fully under control, before hammering a low shot an inch or two wide of the post with Basso beaten.

The traffic was all flowing one way but Rangers had their first serious scare of the match on the half hour when Lee Camp came for a cross only to be smashed off the ball by Dele Adebola. The ball bounced around the QPR penalty area with Camp motionless in the goal mouth. Not only did referee Deadman not give a free kick but he allowed the play to go on for 20 terrifying seconds before bringing the game to a halt as Nick Carle prepared to shoot at the open net from distance. The QPR players protested to the referee and Camp received lengthy treatment before asking a few questions of the officials himself. In the meantime every single Bristol City player had congregated by the dug out for an impromptu team talk and rearrangement by Gary Johnson.

It was noticeable after this that Nick Carle, who’d previously been playing as an orthodox wide player, started to wonder in field and take hold of possession in attacking areas much more. City looked a better team after this switch and Carle came into the game a lot more. The thought did cross my mind that City wouldn’t be as bad as they had been in the opening half hour again now they’d changed their system and we may have missed out chance by not doubling the lead when we were battering them.

I needn’t have worried; the crucial second goal arrived in the 33rd minute just as City seemed to be playing a little better. Martin Rowlands brought a loose ball down forty yards from goal and after a scruffy one two with Vine on the edge of the area he was able to bundle the ball through to Agyemang with his back to goal on the penalty spot. Big Dave got the ball down with two defenders crawling over his back and laid it wide to Buzsaky who steamed in off the right flank to fire a shot at goal that deflected off McAllister and across the face of goal to Agyemang who’d continued his run and tapped in from two yards out. Right place, right time, what a signing he’s turning out to be.

Buzsaky sent a long range effort fizzing into the Lower School End before half time while City continued to look toothless with the ball. Rehman had clearly learnt from his previous experience with Adebola that you cannot allow him to bring a ball down and turn and he did a decent job keeping him quiet in the first stanza.

City’s biggest problem was the defence. Rarely have we seen a back four not wearing hoops looking quite so uncomfortable in a game at Loftus Road. The two centre halves, Jamie McCombe and Thomas Vasco, were an embarrassment to their profession. McCombe is a player I know from Scunthorpe United who he played for in the Third Division. He didn’t get picked very often by them after graduating from the youth set up and except for a stunning 25 yard goal against Barnsley in an FA Cup replay when he’d been thrown on as an emergency striker he looked out of his depth, even at that level, whenever I saw him. Carrying as much weight and meat on his bones as a piece of ropey chicken from KFC and possessing the touch of a Sunday league player I’ve been mystified as to how the guy is not only playing two divisions higher these days but also doing it in the second best team in our league. I’m sorry to say I came away from the game with just as many questions as I’d arrived with. The positional sense of an epileptic gnat, the decision making and footballing brain of Karl Ready and the all round ability of Gus Ceasar – McCombe was given a torrid afternoon and I struggle to recall a worse defender in this league.

Sadly for City Vasco next to him wasn’t much better. Can anybody recall seeing so many clearances shanked, or missed altogether, often under no pressure at all? It was no surprise to see Fontaine replace one of them at half time, Vasco got the hook but McCombe can count himself lucky. Rangers were delighted to see him back out for the second half.

HE continued his dire display but making a pig’s ear of a really well worked free kick at the start of the second half. Martin Rowlands felled Carle on the right corner of the QPR penalty area and with Rangers expecting a shot City instead tapped the ball left for Carle to spin off and cross to the back post. A goal seemed certain as McCombe lumbered into view two yards out under little pressure but he somehow contrived to head the ball right the way across the face of goal and out on the other side. Some miss, and it summed up his afternoon.

When Rowlands fouled Carle again in almost the same spot later in the half, a foul he was booked for this time, the impressive Australian dispensed with the fancy routines and took a shot on himself which Camp did well to tip over from under the cross bar in the middle of the goal.

The third goal that killed the game came just after the hour mark. With Northern the Elder barely able to draw breath after saying “I hope they don’t score while I’m eating this sandwich” Buzsaky cut in from the right, laid it into Agyemang on the edge of the area with his back to goal and continued the run to meet the lay off with a crisp half volley that took a deflection off McCombe and rocketed into the bottom corner. I’m sure it did flick off the defender although friends in the lower Loft swear it didn’t. The replay is inconclusive. I’m not sure the keeper was getting to it with or without a deflection as Buzsaky struck it with real venom. As well as the five goals that’s three assists for Agyemang as well now, he’s just as effective and impressive receiving the ball with his back to goal as he is facing the posts. Why on earth could he not get in the Preston team?

The closest Bristol City came all afternoon was 15 minutes from time. A long ball forward seemed to be heading for Adebola who was marked by Rehman but Stewart tried to head it away instead and inadvertently flicked the ball beyond Rehman and into McIndoe in the penalty area. He touched it off to Adebola who smacked a low drive off the inside of the post. The ball flew back past Camp to Adebola who had another go, this time the keeper saved with his legs.

Camp tipped a free kick from McIndoe round the post and gratefully dived on several loose balls in the six yard box after a couple of goal mouth scrambles. For some reason from the 70th minute Rangers suddenly started losing headers around the edge of their own penalty area for the first time in the game resulting in the Adebola, McIndoe and goal mouth scramble chances. This was rectified by the introduction of Matt Connolly at the expense of Rehman in the 76th minute. After that Rangers settled back down and City struggled for a kick again.

As he left the field Rehman was given a standing ovation by the home crowd, the opposite extreme to the reception he got before the match and, in my opinion, a bit over the top. I didn’t boo him before the match and I clapped him off when he went but a standing ovation? It struck me as a bit of a sympathy vote.

He did ok on Saturday, nothing more or less than that. He didn’t let Adebola turn him, he won about as many headers as he lost, and he didn’t fall over and cost us a goal. He did constantly thump the ball first time down the pitch to the nearest Bristol City player time and time and time again when he had time to take a touch and keep possession, and he did look slow whenever he had to call on his pace. A steady afternoon’s work, you don’t have to do much for you ovations these days at Loftus Road it seems. There can be no question that Rehman has improved since De Canio arrived, but he’s improved from being a liability to being steady. He’s still not a name I welcome on the team sheet and he’ll still cost us more goals than any other defender at the club if picked regularly. Connolly looked far better in every department when he came on.

Rangers kept possession well without showing a great deal of ambition to score a fourth goal in the closing minutes. Vine was deservedly booked for diving down by the corner flag while Damien Delaney had the fans on their feet, first with a thumping sliding tackle that sent the ball flying into the Loft and then with a barnstorming run and cross from the left that flew across the face of goal. That’s two impressive games and one dire one for him since his move from Hull. Kieran Lee also enjoyed a run out at the end of the game and again showed an excellent touch, eye for a pass and ability to play midfield at this level. I’d have started with him at full back for this one and I can’t imagine Man Utd are keen on him staying here for six months without playing regularly but he adds depth to our squad and is an excellent player to have available to us.

So a fine win against one of the high flyers in this division. City look like a shadow of the side I saw murder Sheff Utd before Christmas and it’s hard to imagine them staying so high in the league over the remaining weeks. Their recent results on the road suggest they’ll be coming our way rather than pushing on.

Rangers looked good – passing the ball nicely, defending resolutely and scoring nice goals. Michael Mancienne was superb at right back all afternoon and Martin Rowlands got through a massive amount of work in the centre of midfield. Up front Agyemang and Vine looked threatening every time they had the ball and perhaps with a little more ambition in the closing 20 minutes this could have been an even bigger win. It was good to see Hogan Ephraim back in the side from the start and although a lot of what he tried didn’t quite come off I’d still rather have him wide left than anybody else.

The six point gap between us and the bottom three is mercifully restored. Again, I’ll say I don’t expect us to go down, but I do like a nice cushion between us and the trap door. Hopefully we’ll be looking up for the rest of the season and although our propensity to follow a home win up with an away defeat is keeping us in the same league position at the moment, if we do manage to string a couple of results together then a whole clutch of teams are within striking distance just above us. We’ll have few better opportunities to do that than next week against Southampton, a team apparently heading for financial meltdown and selling its best assets. The only thing they’ll have going for them next week is the likely introduction of a new manager before they play us.

If there’s no repeat of the defensive shambles in our last two away games then we’ve got a great chance in my opinion.

QPR: Camp 7, Mancienne 8, Stewart 7, Rehman 7 (Connolly 76, 7), Delaney 7, Ephraim 7 (Lee 75, 7), Mahon 7, Buzsaky 7, Rowlands 8, Vine 7 (Leigertwood 89, -), Agyemang 8
Subs Not Used: Crowther, Blackstock
Booked: Rowlands (foul), Vine (diving)
Goals: Agyemang 18 (assisted Vine) 33 (assisted Buzsaky) Buzsaky 63 (assisted Agyemang)

Bristol City: Basso 6, Orr 5, Vasko 3 (Fontaine 46, 5), McCombe 2, McAllister 5, Carle 7 (Sproule 66, 6), Elliott 6, Johnson 5 (Noble 80, 6), McIndoe 6, Byfield 5, Adebola 6
Subs Not Used: Weale, Skuse
Booked: Adebola (repetitive fouling), Fontaine (foul)

QPR Star Man – Patrick Agyemang 8 - Martin Rowlands got the sponsors’ award and Michael Mancienne was magnificent on his return but for two goals, an assist, an incredible work ethic and providing a constant threat all day it’s hard to look past Big Dave in my opinion. If I was a Preston fan I’d be asking very serious questions about why my club has messed around with the likes of Karl Hawley and various loan strikers all season to absolutely no effect whatsoever when there was a perfectly good striker on the bench the whole time.

Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire) 6 - His record seems to suggest a more laid back, less fussy approach this season than last and that proved to be the case. Allowed a lot of physical contact to go unchecked and for the most part that was welcome, although the decision to allow Adebola free reign to physically attack Lee Camp in the first half was a strange one and almost cost us a goal. Hard to argue with the four cards shown.

Attendance: 16,502 (3,000 City fans approx) City sold their allocation out and were noisy to start with but soon quietened down as the goals went in and more than half had headed home early by the time the final whistle went. QPR fans were in decent, steady voice all afternoon.

Photo: Action Images

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